by wjw on November 14, 2008

Is that a poppy in your lapel, Walter?
Dave Bishop asked a question in regard to the photo of me at Tech preparing to talk to Mike Fincke. The answer seemed worth giving at greater length, so here we go.
Yes, that is a poppy, though it’s not on my lapel, it’s just stuck on my shirt.
It’s a Remembrance Day poppy, acquired in Canada, where Remembrance Day is a ongoing custom that seems to be taken with grave seriousness. Remembrance Day, November 11, was instituted in the U.K. and Commonwealth countries in memory of those who died in the War to End All Wars.
(Do they still to the two minutes of silence in the U.K., Dave? Or has that part of the custom been abandoned?)
Dave asked if we wear poppies in the States, and the answer would seem to be that some people still do, though on another day.
In the States we have two competing holidays, the first being Memorial Day, in May. Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day, was instituted to remember the dead of the American Civil War, and thus predates Remembrance Day.
What is in the Commonwealth called the Flanders Poppy is in the States called the Buddy Poppy, and is worn for Memorial Day. Poppies are made by disabled veterans, and sold by same.
It has to be said that I haven’t seen anyone wearing or selling a Buddy Poppy in decades. I remember my father, a World War II vet, used to wear one every spring, but the custom seems to have largely died out since the Sixties. I blame the Vietnam War, which as a culture we prefer not to remember.
November 11 was called Armistice Day in the States, and was the only holiday on our calendar honoring the making of a peace. In the 1950s it was changed to Veterans Day, to honor veterans.
So we’ve got Veterans Day, which honors all veterans, and Memorial Day, which honors dead veterans. Memorial Day is a bigger affair, with more parades, speeches, and wreath-layings.
We no longer have a holiday devoted to making peace.
Be that as it all may, I think the wearing of the poppy is a fine old custom, and so I wear the poppy in this photo, in memory of the war dead.
Ken Houghton November 15, 2008 at 3:43 am

My Eldest Daughter was thrilled to be able to spend a loon for a poppy earlier this week. It may well have made the move to Canada worth its while, even if I am a bit more bitter about Armistice Day than the rest of the world, probably because it should be a Day of Peace.

Dave Bishop November 16, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Thanks for your comprehensive reply, Walter.

The older I get, the more terrible war seems and the more I give thanks that I never had to fight in one. I also become more and more appreciative of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms – and increasingly angry about the fates of those whose lives were needlessly sacrificed in pointless or unjust wars.

When I was working my UK workplace observed the two minutes silence every year. I retired 3 years ago but I assume that they still observe this custom.

silburnl November 17, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Observance of the two minute silence on the 11th varies depending upon workplace in the UK. I’ve been at a few places who do it in an organised way (with a tannoy announcement or whatever), but rather more that don’t do anything. Of course having a calendaring app like Notes or Outlook means you can program a reminder for yourself and observe the silence without a centrally organised prompt.

There is also a two minute silence on the Sunday closest to the 11th, which is when the wreath-laying ceremonies take place – there’s the big official one at the Cenotaph in Whitehall which gets televised, but there are also local ones at churches, neighbourhood memorials and the like.

Poppies (sold by the Royal British Legion) are pretty much ubiquitous from mid-October on. Some people wear a white poppy as a pacifist alternative, but this is very unusual in comparison to the red one.


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